Although the scoreline suggests a close game, even Jose Mourinho had to admit to a gulf in class between his Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus
Some people are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them and then there’s a third category for Cristiano Ronaldo, who used to thrust his greatness on Manchester United’s opponents whether they liked it or not.
Ronaldo was only as great as he needed to be during Juventus’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford on Tuesday, which given how uninspired United were, was not very.
The omens were not great for United. For the second consecutive Champions League match their bus was delayed, even though they’d switched headquarters to a hotel just five minutes from the ground.
We know this because Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford well before his players, telling BT Sport: “We change hotel, it’s just around the corner. The players are in the bus for 45 minutes. I walked, with a hoodie, in the middle of the fans, nobody recognised me. I took two minutes! What I do in two minutes walking, the players cannot do in 45 minutes on the bus.”
— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) October 23, 2018
Of course it is possible that several people recognised him and just decided to ignore him and why they needed to be in a hotel two minutes’ walk from one of the biggest stadiums in Europe remains unclear.
Juventus dominated every area of the game
Juventus’s bus had a similar problem, but it didn’t seem to affect them. The visitors enjoyed 70 percent of the possession during the first 25 minutes and the surprise was that they only had a 1-0 lead to show for it.
At times they sliced United apart but the only goal came from an attack down the right flank Valencia had repeatedly exposed during the previous group game. Ronaldo played a one-two, surged to the byline and put in a cross that was deflected into the path of Paulo Dybala for a chance that even Romelu Lukaku would have struggled to miss on current form.
The home side mustered a single, weak header on target in the first half and David de Gea was once again keeping them in the contest, palming away a vicious free-kick from Ronaldo before the break and clawing an even better effort out from the same player out of the top corner, early in the second.
The home team playing like visitors
United were reduced to playing like away teams used to play at Old Trafford during the Ferguson era: sit back, limit the damage and try to steal a point on the break. It wasn’t a completely lost cause however, because for all their domination, Juve periodically gave the ball away at the back.
Around ten minutes from time Paul Pogba pounced on a misplaced pass, shot from around 25 yards and watched in torment as the ball ricocheted off the post, back onto Wojciech Szczesny’s head and out for a corner, possibly the first genuine moment of luck the Polish keeper has ever had at a venue where he once conceded eight goals as part of an Arsenal team that were experimenting by playing without a recognised defence, midfield, or attack.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 23, 2018
There was also a moment of insanity in stoppage time when, under no danger, Andrea Barzagli shoved Marcus Rashford on the very edge of the area. In the Ferguson era the crowd would have been baying for a penalty, but now they just seemed beaten.
Mourinho saw no value in trying to fool anyone. “The other side was huge quality,” he said. “People look for Cristiano, Dybala, Pjanic, but in a top team you have to look for Chiellini, Bonucci, and Juventus is this kind of team. When they are in front it’s very difficult to get a goal. Our attacking players were not, what I say in a funny way, with honey in their feet. Things were not coming. But everybody tried, everyone was strong, everyone tried until the end.”
Ronaldo was applauded off after an unremarkable performance by his standards. He was operating at maybe 60 percent of his capacity, but as United are maybe only 30 percent of the team they used to be when he was at Old Trafford, that was all he really needed to do.